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Eric Mangini Is Still a Cleveland Brown: What Is Behind Holmgren’s Decision?

Published: January 7, 2010

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To say the news that Eric Mangini being retained as head coach of the Cleveland Browns is shocking may be the understatement of the year.


Regardless of where you came down on Mangini as a coach, the fact that Mike Holmgren was going to put his own stamp on the team led most to believe that Mangini was a goner.


Two strong-willed men from entirely different coaching philosophies meant, in most people’s eyes, that the two would not co-exist.


Perhaps even as surprising as the decision that Mangini will stay is the fact that Holmgren is not going to force-feed him a new offensive (or defensive) coordinator who is more in tune with Holmgren’s system.


There are two schools of thought on what prompted “The Big Show’s” decision to keep Mangini (and his staff).


One is that Holmgren’s decision had more to do with saving face than anything.


If he lets Mangini sink with his own guys, then it will be easier to fire him and replace him with someone off the Holmgren tree.


On the other hand, if he had fired Mangini and replaced him with his own guys after a four-game winning streak, Holmgren (and Lerner) would have big trouble on their hands if the team started out slowly.


The Browns did show improvement from the beginning to the end of the season. If there was a perceived step backwards, Holmgren would have egg on his face.


The second theory is that this was strictly a football-related decision.


Any fan who is being honest with his (or her) self, would realize that the Cleveland Browns are in a better position on January 7, 2010 than they were on January 7, 2009.


In 2009, the team was going into the off-season after a 4-12 season with the personnel cupboards bare (except for a few talented, but questionable character players), very few draft choices, and very little salary cap space.


Now fast-forward to the present.


The team improved its attitude, won its last four games, got rid of its malcontents, acquired 11 draft choices, and freed up salary.


The team is unquestionably better off today.


I would like to believe that Holmgren’s final judgment was more in line with the latter theory than taking a more sinister approach.


In the end it does not matter. Mangini is Holmgren’s guy…for now.

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The New Cleveland Browns: One Step Backwards To Take Two Steps Forward

Published: January 6, 2010

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Hiring a respected, credible football man like Mike Holmgren to be the President of the Cleveland Browns organization was a smart move on the part of owner Randy Lerner. In fact, It is a decision that should have been made several regimes ago.


For the first time since the rebirth of the Browns in 1999, the franchise appears to finally be on its way toward creating a proper organizational structure.


The Head Coach answers to the General Manager who answers to the President who answers to the Owner. That is precisely the way a football team should be run.


But let’s just get one thing straight Cleveland Browns fans—this is not some quick fix that automatically puts your team in playoff contention next season.


In fact, this new era in Browns football may take a step backwards first.


This is in no way an indictment of Mr. Lerner’s hiring of “The Big Show.” For the long-term success of the Browns this was the right call, but in the short term there is going to be a steep learning curve for the players.


Although Holmgren has said he will not be coaching the team, all signs point in the direction that the team will at the very least be incorporating some of Holmgren’s offensive and defensive philosophies (whether current head coach Eric Mangini stays or goes).


Holmgren stated that referring to his offense as the West Coast, after all the tinkering he has done to this scheme since the days of Paul Brown, is a lazy misnomer made up by the media. It is clearly a much different system than the current group of Browns’ players has been exposed to.


Whenever a team switches offenses (as this team will), a lot of changes will be made in not just terminology, but in the skill sets needed from the personnel running the offense.


As just one of many examples, power running teams such as the team Mangini was trying to build, require big, mauler-type offensive lineman. But offensive lineman need to be lighter on their feet to play in a zone and trap blocking scheme.


The terminology itself in Holmgren’s offense is going to require everyone involved to forget everything they have already learned. That applies to not just quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs, but the offensive lines’ protection calls.


In the first week of mini-camp, the players will feel like the coaching staff is speaking Chinese.


People forget that veteran quarterback Brett Favre had a very difficult time adjusting to play-calling when moving from the West Coast offense to Mangini’s system born out of the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick tree. It will be no different for those making the switch to the West Coast.


For those believing that the west coast style will benefit Brady Quinn’s skill set, keep in mind that Quinn has been exposed to only Mangini’s system (even while a college player).


Even acknowledging Quinn’s smarts, it does him very little good. The West Coast is more of an instinctive offense that takes much of the thinking out of the quarterbacks head and is instead more scripted by the offensive coordinator.


That doesn’t even take into account that quarterbacks of a more recent vintage that currently run the West Coast possess canon-like arms (Brett Favre, Donavon McNabb, Aaron Rodgers).


Likewise, there are rumblings that Holmgren prefers the 4-3 defense to the hybrid 3-4 the Browns are playing under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.


The current personnel group likely does not match the same criteria required for the 4-3, which will require some additions and subtractions across the front seven of this roster.


There is still reason for optimism for this franchise. The new organizational structure with a solid football mind in front of it is a great start.


Eric Mangini should be credited for changing the culture of players from Club Crennel to a more business-like approach. The players learned that hard work and how to play as a team can create results on the field.


Ridding the team of me-first malcontents, coupled with younger players getting significant playing time because of injuries will all help in the future as well.


The team also has eleven draft choices in the upcoming draft (including the seventh overall pick) and it has plenty of salary flexibility going forward. The job of General Manager is certainly more attractive with those two factors in place.


But there will be some growing pains first.

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Final Curtain Call For Derek Anderson As a Cleveland Brown

Published: December 27, 2009

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Derek Anderson’s career path has been as erratic as his arm.


He was a much heralded two-sport star in high school in the state of Oregon. He was nationally recruited in basketball but chose to play football at Oregon State, much to the delight of his home town fans.


He started as a sophomore in college and struggled. Anderson played so poorly that some wondered whether he deserved a second chance.


With very little waiting in the wings at Oregon State, he was given the starting nod again his junior year and showed improvement under former NFL coach Mike Riley.


In his senior year, Anderson finally showed the promise that made him an idol in Oregon. He became just the fourth passer in PAC-10 history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season and finished his career second all-time in career touchdowns.


Anderson was not drafted until the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2005 NFL draft. Being the 215th player picked, there was little hope that he would someday become a starting quarterback at the professional level.


He was waived just weeks into his rookie year and was claimed by the Cleveland Browns. He carried a clipboard for the entire 2005 season as the third string backup.


In 2006, Anderson served as Charlie Frye’s backup when the team decided that Trent Dilfer would not cooperate with his role as a second-stringer. Anderson received no valuable playing time until Frye was injured in a December game.


Anderson entered the game trailing 28-14 but was instrumental with both his arm and legs in leading the team to a 31-28 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw two touchdown strikes and scrambled for a 33-yard run to set up the game-winning field goal.


In 2007, the Browns chose the heralded Brady Quinn in the first round of the draft, and it looked again like Anderson was living on borrowed time. But Quinn missed a good portion of training camp due to contract demands.


Although Anderson out-played Charlie Frye during most of the preseason, Frye was handed the starting job. Head Coach Romeo Crennel claimed that Frye won a “coin toss” to open the season.


Frye played so terribly against the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening day that he was soon traded. Most thought that Anderson would just keep the seat warm at quarterback while Quinn was getting up to speed.


Instead, Anderson went on a magical run that saw the Browns win 10 of his 15 starts. He finished the year with 29 touchdown passes and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.


We all know what happened from there. He started the 2008 season and was benched after ineffective play. He was reinserted as a starter only after a Brady Quinn injury.


In the current season, Quinn was given the starting nod, but he was benched for DA because of his own ineffective play.


Anderson got new life again, but failed to take advantage. The current coaching staff sat him down once again after he could not get the job done.


Like boom-a-rang, Anderson gets yet another look this week against the Oakland Raiders after an injury has sidelined Quinn yet again.


But like a cat with nine lives, this may be his last. It is fair to say that Anderson is auditioning for another team.


He has a $7 million contract for next year which includes a $2 million bonus. It is a sure thing that the Browns will not pay that bonus.


The question for Anderson becomes, “Will another team take a stab at him?”


It will be surprising if someone does not. He is, after all, just 26 years old.


But his next opportunity will most likely come with the understanding that he will be an understudy once again.


He was a good soldier while a Cleveland Brown. He never pouted and was never considered a bad teammate despite being treated like a yo-yo on a string.


In fact, there were rumblings from within that his own teammates did more whining when Quinn was given the job this year, but not a word from Anderson.


He led the team to one of its only successful seasons since its rebirth in 1999. Yet he was reviled by much of the fan base for standing in the way of their chosen one.


Anderson’s play was to blame for his treatment by the organization. He frustrated fans and coaches alike for his head-scratching decisions on the field.


But his ability to continue to rise from the dead has to be applauded at some level.


This will not be an easy test for DA. Although the Raiders have struggled as a team, he will be throwing against one of the elite cornerbacks in the National Football League in Nnamdi Asomugha.


The Raiders, like the Browns, have played inspired football despite their record.


He will, however, have a chance to get some NFL executive to fall in love with that incredible, albeit inaccurate, arm.


These last two weeks are the final curtain call for Derek Anderson as a Cleveland Brown, and this writer certainly will not miss his propensity to throw the ball into coverage.


But I will be rooting for him none-the-less.


Good luck and Godspeed, Derek.

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Job One For Cleveland’s Mike Holmgren: Upgrade Browns’ Quarterback Play

Published: December 23, 2009

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Brady Quinn’s season is over for the second time in two years because of injury.


A new President of Football Operations is in place and has to evaluate the talent on hand to decide what direction to take the team in.


One of the most pressing things on Mike Holmgren’s plate will be, “What do the Cleveland Browns do at quarterback going forward?”


President Holmgren is not exactly being greeted with an embarrassment of riches at the position. And Quinn’s injury will not help in the evaluation process.


If game tape is all Holmgren has to make a decision, Brady is in some big trouble.


After two straight wins despite minimal contributions from the quarterback spot, the Quinn apologists have come out with a new theory: “The Cleveland Browns can win with a ‘game manager’ like Brady Quinn.”


“Game manager” is code word in the NFL for “you cannot really win us a game, so please try not to lose it.”


Let’s not kid ourselves here, the Browns cannot continue to bank on eight sack performances, multiple kickoff return touchdowns, and 286 yard rushing games if they are to be successful.


While it is true that the hard-nosed AFC North requires a solid running attack and top-notch defense, quarterback play separates contenders from pretenders.


The Cleveland Browns’ defense is not going to turn into the Steel Curtain or the brutal Ray Lewis-led Super Bowl Ravens in the next year or two. And I do not see Clay Matthews, Hanford Dixon or Frank Minnifield anywhere on the roster.


Cleveland currently has the fourth best quarterback out of four teams in the AFC North (unless you count backups). Quinn ranks miles below Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco, no matter which standard you use.


If you look at all the potential playoff teams this season, there are very few teams who do not have a strong-armed/playmaking QB (AFC: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger; NFC: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner).


The only team that might make the playoffs with a “game manager” is Denver (which has gotten some big games through the air due to their ridiculous number of playmaking receivers). And Denver looks like a team on borrowed time anyway.


NFL football teams do not want game managers at quarterback, they settle for them when nothing else is available.


Statistically, Brady Quinn is the 26th rated starting quarterback in the NFL. If you take out his monstrous game against the lowly Detroit Lions, the numbers look even worse.


Let’s get one thing perfectly straight—those bombs against the Lions DO NOT disprove the notion that Quinn lacks arm strength!


There are 119 Division I football programs in college football, and there are 238 quarterbacks (or more) that can throw a football 50 yards or more.


In fact, I would be surprised if you did not have one playing at your local high school right now.


This past Sunday, I watched the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers running the two-minute drill before the half. His receiver ran a deep crossing pattern, and he threw a rocket near the sidelines that did not get seven feet off the ground for a twenty-two yard completion.


That pass enabled his team to stop the clock and continue the drive. That, my friends, is arm strength!


That is also something that we have not seen Quinn do on a regular basis, if ever.


There will be three to four plays per game when a quarterback has to fire a bullet between defenders or near the sideline. Those three to four plays will be worth three to ten points per ball game.


I do not have the statistics to prove it, but it is likely that those three to ten points per game will be the difference between a 10-6 record or a 6-10 record.


Many want to blame current offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for Quinn’s struggles. While Daboll will not be confused with Don Coryell any time soon, he cannot shoulder the entire blame for Quinn’s failures.


It is quite possible, even probable, that many of Daboll’s play-calling decisions have been the result of Quinn’s deficiencies—and not the other way around.


Some people are of the belief that Mike Holmgren’s West Coast Offense is going to save the day for Brady Quinn’s career.


Bill Walsh once described the West Coast Offense as a long hand off, which would probably hide some of Quinn’s short-comings.


But the game has changed immensely from the days of Joe Montana. Linebackers, defensive backs, and even defensive lineman are much quicker to the ball.


Because the league is now more familiar with the offense, defensive coordinators have found ways to scheme against it.


The West Coast offense spawned the Tampa-Two defense (actually reincarnated from the 1970’s Steelers). It was designed to combat the Jerry Rice’s of the world from catching it from six yards and turning it into sixty.


As a result, teams that run the West Coast successfully now have rifle-armed quarterbacks that can force a ball into tight quarters (see Favre, McNabb, Rodgers). And those same quarterbacks keep defenses honest by throwing the ball over the top.


Quinn possesses neither of those skill-sets.


The hope has been that despite Quinn lack of an uzzy for an arm, he would more than make up for it with his accuracy. But that just has not been the case.


Some of the blame can be laid at the hands, or lack thereof, of his receiving corps. But he has been wildly erratic on even short throws.


Quinn has the lowest completion percentage (53.1) and worst yards per passing attempt average (5.23) in the entire league (sans JeMarcus Russell). Those statistics are alarming.


A 53 percent completion percentage is usually reserved for mad bombers who take their chances down the field, not for quarterbacks who see the field from 10 yards and in.


We can no longer just excuse Quinn because of his youth. He is now in his third season in the league, and younger quarterbacks have shown more potential.


While I leave the decision on how to rectify the lack of productivity at the position on the new man in charge—one thing is clear: the Cleveland Browns need an upgrade.

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Mike Holmgren Radio Interview: Please Don’t Make Me Go To Cleveland!

Published: December 19, 2009

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It is becoming more and more apparent that Mike Holmgren will wind up in Cleveland in some capacity.


What capacity that is still remains a mystery.


Holmgren revealed on his weekly radio show in Seattle that the Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner has offered him a post with the team.


He also stated that the job offer is not limited to just a front office position, but would include a coaching position if he chooses.


What was most striking from his comments was that despite the Browns interest, he remained more interested in Seattle if they would take him.


It sounded sort of like Seattle was the girlfriend that doesn’t love him anymore. “I swear… once I walk out that door it’s over…I mean it….last chance…I’m really gonna go….”


It was rumored that Holmgren was going to use his radio show to give everyone the straight story on his future plans. Instead, he left the listener with more questions than answers.


Holmgren was all over the map.


“I want to coach…It’s not fair to fire a coach after one year…I could just be the GM/President…I could be both…I think Mangini is a great coach.”


It was just one big circular argument.


But if you have followed football long enough, it is not really difficult to follow “coach-speak.”


So for you Mike Holmgren fans, I will do my best to interpret Mike Holmgren’s radio interview as he allegedly laid it on the line.


Holmgren: “I’d love to be considered for a position with the Seahawks. I devoted 10 years of my life to try to make the franchise and the team good. I needed that year off, which I don’t regret. But my family’s in Seattle. There’d be something really special about being able to do something with the organization again.”


What he really means: “I would rather be in Seattle. So if your listening Paul Allen, please call me!”


Holmgren: “Having said that, I’m a big boy.”


What he really means: “Come oooooon….come ooooon!”


Holmgren: “Another team has contacted me besides the Browns.”


What he really means: “Mr. Allen, there really are some other teams who might want me. Mr. Lerner, open up your pocket book.”


Holmgren: “It’s [the Browns] a pretty wonderful opportunity for anybody. Exactly how the setup will be regarding me, that’s something I’m still thinking about, and it’s my obligation to let the Browns know what I’m thinking that way.”


What he really means: “Randy, I want total control if I take over that mess of an organization you have there. So you better pick me up from the airport in a Brinks truck full of cash.”


Holmgren: “It’d be really unfair for me to talk too much about that other than the fact that I like Eric Mangini. I think he’s a good coach. He’s a bright guy. He works very, very hard at his job and we have to see. Anytime you go in and are responsible for who that person is, in fairness to everybody, you better give everyone a chance.”


What he really means: “You seem like a really nice guy Eric. But let’s face it – I’m better than you.”


Holmgren: “This is his first year in Cleveland. Bill Parcells did it in Miami after one year, had a coaching change [firing Cam Cameron after only one year]. But having been a coach for so many years, I’d be the first one to tell you that’s not very fair. But sometimes the tough decisions aren’t fair. But I’d do everything in my power to make sure it’s the right one and that everyone gets a chance to prove himself.”


What he really means: “If I do come to Cleveland, you better start looking for other work Eric.”


Holmgren: “They think the world of him [Brady Quinn]. This much I know. If you’re kind of juggling two guys [Quinn and Derek Anderson], it becomes very hard for both of them and at times hard for the team. I’d have to study and learn so much more about both those young men.”


What he really means: “Randy Lerner would love for Brady Quinn to be the face of the franchise. I, on the other hand, do not think they have a quarterback on the roster.”


Holmgren: “No one [from Seattle] has come to me or phoned me and said I couldn’t be part of the process or wouldn’t be. That’s not to say that I will be part of the process.”


What he really means: “Please! Please! Don’t make me go to Cleveland!”


Holmgren: “I’d like to work next year. There’s still some time and we’ll see.”


What he really means: “Jesus Mr. Allen, don’t make me get down on my knees and beg!”


Holmgren: “We’d miss the kids and the grandkids, but she also knows I want to work again. She’s my partner and so here we go.”


What he really means: “I get the hint Seattle. You don’t want me here. Honey, call the movers. Man, is she going to be mad at me!”


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Mike Holmgren: Why Cleveland Browns Fans’ Excitement Should Be Tempered

Published: December 16, 2009

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The rumor mill is swirling now that Mike Holmgren has officially met with Cleveland Browns’ owner Randy Lerner to fill their vacant general manager position.


It very well might be a ruse by Holmgren to garner leverage for another position. But if he and Lerner are serious dancing partners, Cleveland Browns fans seem to be willing participants.


By all accounts, the move would be lauded by Browns fans. There is an air of excitement in northeast Ohio over the potential hiring of one of the great head football coaches in recent memory.


Holmgren certainly brings with him instant credibility as someone who has won a Super Bowl and coached in another.


As a coach, he is a highly respected quarterback guru and is well known for his role in mentoring Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and Matt Hasselbeck.


His sterling reputation as an offensive play-caller is well deserved. His teams in Green Bay and Seattle were usually among the league leaders in points and yardage.


Aside from his accomplishments, Holmgren is generally well liked around the league.


He also has a confident, but not cocky, persona. He is the kind of leader that most fans can get behind.


If, in fact, Holmgren is signed to be the new face of the franchise, many Cleveland fans will be happy (for now).


But I would like to temper the enthusiasm just a bit.


Remember, Holmgren is not being hired to be a coach…something he is extremely good at.


Instead, he is being hired to be the man in charge of the draft and player acquisitions. In that role, his results are mixed.


As an example I ask this question, “Would you want the world’s most renowned back surgeon to be performing open heart surgery on you?”


A neurologist and a cardiologist are both doctors. But they are specialists in two entirely different practices of medicine.


With the Packers, Ron Wolf was the man responsible for the draft. Those players won a Super Bowl.


While with Seattle, Holmgren’s teams were perennial playoff contenders. But it wasn’t until Holmgren’s duties as general manager were taken away from him that the team reached a Super Bowl.


He was responsible for the trade that brought the franchise quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) to the Seahawks. But his decisions on draft day have been questionable at best.


Holmgren was responsible for six drafts from 1999 to 2001. Here are the results:



1/22     Lamar King, DE

3/77     Brock Huard, QB

3/82     Karsten Bailey, WR

4/115   Antonio Cochran, DE

5/140   Floyd Wedderburn, OT

5/152   Charlie Rogers, WR

6/170   Steve Johnson, CB



1/19     Shawn Alexander, RB

1/22     Chris McIntosh, OT

2/52     Ike Charlton, CB

3/80     Darrell Jackson, WR

4/116   Marcus Bell, LB

4/119   Isaiah Kacyvenski, LB

6/175   James Williams, WR

6/185   Tim Watson, DT

6/190   John Hilliard, DT



1/9       Koren Robinson, WR

1/17     Steve Hutchinson, OG

2/40     Ken Lucas, S

3/82     Heath Evans, RB

4/104   Orlando Huff, LB

4/127   Chris Fuller, DB

4/128   Floyd Womack, OG

5/140   Alex Bannister, WR

6/172   Josh Booty, QB

7/210   Harold Blackmon, DB

7/222   Dennis Norman, OT

7/237   Kris Kocurek, DT



1/28     Jerramy Stevens, TE

2/54     Maurice Morris, RB

2/60     Anton Palepoi, DE

3/85     Kris Richard, DB

4/120   Terreal Bierria, DB

5/146   Rocky Bernard, DT

5/169   Ryan Hannam, TE

5/171   Matt Hill, OT

6/194   Craig Jarrett, P

7/232   Jeff Kelly, QB


Holmgren was a combined two-for-six in the first round. While .333 is a fantastic batting average in baseball, it is not a particularly strong showing when it comes to picking NFL talent.


Overall, he has had some successes. Steve Hutchinson and Shaun Alexander come to mind.


But he has completely whiffed on a number of high draft choices—i.e., Lamar King, Brock Huard, Karsten Bailey, Chris McIntosh, Ike Charlton, Koren Robinson, Heath Evans, Jerramy Stevens, Maurice Morris, and Anton Palepoi.


He had a tendency to draft players with exceptional athletic ability but poor character. And as a result, those players have not worked out.


Maybe Holmgren has learned from his mistakes. It is possible that handling the dual roles as coach and general manager were just too much.


Holmgren has an exceptional mind for the game of football. He may very well turn this franchise around.


From a pure public relations standpoint, he would be a brilliant hire. It would be a great way for Randy Lerner to placate the fan base, given their instant hatred of head coach Eric Mangini.


But before Cleveland fans start throwing a ticker-tape parade to usher in the new savior, it might be wise to hold off on the party favors.

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Tim Ruskell: The Cleveland Browns’ New Man in Charge?

Published: December 13, 2009

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The Cleveland Browns’ attention has turned to Tim Ruskell in their search to fill their vacant General Manager position, according to Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer .


Ruskell most recently was the President of Football Operations and General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks.


This is somewhat of an ironic twist in that he was the man largely responsible for pushing Mike Holmgren out the door in Seattle.


Holmgren has been on the radar of Browns Randy Lerner for the same position here in Cleveland but now may actually replace Ruskell in Seattle.


Ruskell also was all but offered this very post in Cleveland in 2005, but he believed the Seattle job was a better opportunity. Thus, the Browns turned to the inexperienced Phil Savage.


Ruskell has a solid pedigree, formerly working alongside Rich McKay in the Tampa Bay and Atlanta organizations. He has over 20 years of professional football experience.


He was a key decision-maker in helping two separate teams make Super Bowl runs.


In 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XVII under Ruskell’s stewardship as Director of Player Personnel.


Prior to 2005, Mike Holmgren had served as both the head coach and general manager of the Seahawks. Holmgren struggled in the dual roles and Ruskell took over as President and General Manager.


In 2006, Seattle played in Super Bowl XL after many years of mediocracy (or worse). Ruskell played a major role in making that happen.


According to the Plain Dealer source, “Tim is a cooperative sort. For example, he went to Seattle and accepted and worked with Holmgren even though it was common knowledge that Holmgren resented losing his duties [as President and GM] to Ruskell.”


Ruskell fits the profile of Randy Lerner’s search. He has a great deal of experience turning around woebegone franchises, he is personable in terms of his handling of the press and the fans, and he is well-liked and respected by player agents.

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Real Cleveland Football For A Change

Published: December 11, 2009

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To borrow a line from the late Harry Caray, “Holy cow!!”


Did I just watch a real professional football game in Cleveland?!


Not since the days of Minnifield and Dixon have I seen defensive backs sticking to receivers like what I witnessed against the Pittsburgh Steelers last night.


Was that Chip Banks, Clay Matthews, and Eddie Johnson dressed up as Marcus Benard, Matt Roth, and David Bowens?


Was that Corey Williams or Michael Dean Perry collapsing the pocket like that?



A Whole Lot of Hitting Going on Out There


It wasn’t just that the under-manned Browns beat the reigning Super Bowl Champions, but it was how they went about doing it.


Cleveland simply punched the Steelers in the mouth on both sides of the ball.


Sure, the Browns had to use some trickery with the Wildcat to move the football. They also resorted to some unique defensive looks to keep the Steelers’ offense confused,but the Browns dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.


They beat the Steelers at what was once their own game. They bloodied their noses and held them down until they cried “Uncle!”


I have not seen that from a Browns team since the late 1980s,even when they did win a game.



Game Ball


It is pretty obvious to anyone who was watching that Joshua Cribbs is a special player.


He completely took the game over on special teams and on offense, when very few of the skill players were making plays.


There are a lot of amazing things you can point to when referring to Cribbs: his speed, his power, and his sheer will all come to mind.


But what I find most amazing, is his ability to get it done when everyone in the stadium, including the opposing team, knows he is getting the ball.


I understand the organization’s stance when it comes to his contract situation. Why pay a guy who we just renegotiated with, especially when our goal is to create as much cap space as possible under a rebuilding regime?


But week in and week out, this guy has earned it.


He has been a good soldier and has refrained from ripping the team when he could have just as easily gone the other way. He has done everything that has been asked of him and more.


Pay the man!



Game Balls II


There is plenty to go around, because this was truly a “team effort” by its very definition.


There are a few players who deserve mention simply because they have taken such a beating from the fans during the year.


Specifically, I am pointing to the following players who fit that category: Brandon McDonald, Hank Poteat, Corey Williams, and John St. Clair.


If you want to beat them when their down, then you should pat them on the back for their effort when they have earned it; they earned it last night.



Game Balls III


I tried to stop, but I need Spalding to send over a few more.


Fullbacks are the Inglorious Bastards of the NFL. They hardly get a mention unless their quarterback is lying on the field in agony because they just missed their assignment.


But Steeler defenders are recuperating today after taking some absolutely viscous shots from Lawrence Vickers yesterday.


Vickers was pumped up from the start and his attitude helped set the tone from the beginning of the game.


Eric Wright was in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes pockets so often, it looked as if someone sowed him onto their jerseys.


His play, as well as the play of the rest of the defensive backfield, allowed Coach Ryan to send the house at Ben Roethlisberger on virtually every play.


Marcus Benard…alright…forget it…I give up. Pass one out to the whole front seven on defense and the whole offensive line on offense.



Evan Moore is the Real Deal


I have to admit that I was not willing to jump on the bandwagon after last week’s six catch, 80-yard performance against the Chargers.


I heard all the talk about how this converted wide receiver from Stanford was making plays all year in practice.


Fans were coming out of the woodwork proclaiming him as the next Jason Whitten.


One bleeping game for crying out loud! Give me a break!


I’m still not ready to hang his number next to the great Ozzie Newsome. But maybe the Browns are on to something here.


That 24-yard pass he hauled in early in the game was a thing of beauty.


Evan Moore, welcome to Brownstown.



The Coaching Staff


Just like some of the aforementioned players for whom I passed out accolades (who have been getting roasted by the local fan base), the coaching staff deserves a little credit today as well.


Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pushed all the right buttons in thoroughly confusing the Steelers’ offense.


Ironically, Ryan actually simplified things according to some of his players and it paid dividends.


Simply put, he played man-coverage for a good portion of the game and attacked particular areas of the Pittsburgh offense with three where they had two (or four where they had three).


In 3rd-and-long situations, Ryan had defenders walking all over the place so Roethlisberger and crew could not figure out who was in coverage and who was rushing the passer.


It was just what the doctor ordered for a team that has to pass out name tags at practice just to determine who is the teammate that is playing next to him.


Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll should get some kudos as well.


Some games it is maddening how conservative the Browns’ offense can be. But when your defense is dominating the game and the weather is bad, protecting the lead, running out the clock, and not making any mistakes against an opponent with more talent is the right move.


On a day when the Browns were not getting much help out of their passing game, he stuck to his guns.


His use of Josh Cribbs was just enough to be effective, but not so much as to be redundant.


It helped that his blockers actually executed the game plan.


Cleveland’s favorite whipping boy, Eric Mangini, deserves big “ups” for this game.


Let’s be real honest here, after all the injuries, personnel changes, and losses —as well as the fact that there was not a lot of talent to begin with—this team could have easily folded the tent and just packed it in for the year.


They didn’t; they played inspired and beat a superior, albeit slumping, football team.


Anyone out their going to bite the bullet and say it?


[Long Pause]


Ok, I will anyway. Great job Eric Mangini!



Six Points and Leroy Watson


I have been writing on B/R for less than one year and have been a Featured Writer for only a few months.


In that short time, I have had an opportunity to read quite a few writers whom I think very highly of who work for this site. There are an awful lot of writers on this site that I would rather spend my time reading than some of the high-profile sports journalists at some magazines, newspapers, and web sites.


Therefore, it is somewhat unfair of me to pick out just a couple when there are so many gifted people who contribute to this site.


That said, I want to recommend to anyone who reads this to check out two in particular who I personally cannot wait to read on a regular basis.


Leroy Watson is currently a Featured Writer in the Memphis Tigers NCAA basketball section.


Although Leroy is a fantastic source for your college basketball jones, it is his feature stories on historical figures that he does on occasion that I find most compelling.


My wife, who has absolutely no interest in sports, actually cried twice while reading his pieces.


Do yourself a favor and take a peek if you have not already.


Secondly, I want to recognize Christopher Maher , who frequently contributes what he calls his “Six Points” piece in this very Browns section.


Christopher does not get nearly the traffic that he deserves.


He is not a Featured Writer, so he does not get a prime piece of real estate.


He does not necessarily share the “popular” mass’s opinion, so Browns’ readers may not find his work appealing.


Perhaps it’s because he does not write articles headlined “Why I Love (or Hate) Brady Quinn” or “Eric Mangini Should Be Fired” that keeps him from getting more reads.


But Christopher’s sarcastic sense of humor, realistic point-of-view, and brilliant writing style are something I look forward to taking in.


Maybe it’s just the smartaleck in me that finds his work so darn good.

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A Look Back at The First Round Of The 2009 NFL Draft

Published: December 9, 2009

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When the NFL completes its draft in April, there is no shortage of opinions from the “experts” who attempt to grade each team’s decisions the very next day.


However, those same experts are nowhere to be found two years later when that predicted “bust” turns into an All-Pro, or that “best thing since sliced bread” turns into a drag on his team’s salary cap.


It usually takes a minimum of two years to determine whether the person pulling the trigger on draft day made all the right moves. This draft will be no different.


Even though it is still too early to call, let’s take a look back at the 2009 first round of the draft and see how things are progressing 12 weeks into the season.


1. Matthew Stafford, QB (Detroit Lions)


Statistics: (GP: 10, PYDS: 2,267, PCT: 53.3%, TD: 13,  INT: 20, RT: 61.0)


This really was a no-brainer for the Lions brain trust. He was rated by most as the top quarterback in the draft for a team that did not have any other options at the most important position on the field.


While the Lions have more holes to fill than quarterback to turn their fortunes around, it looks like they will not have to worry about their field general in the near future.


Stafford’s canon arm comes as advertised, he is a hard-worker in the film room, and he has shown the right temperament when it comes to leading the troops.


Like most rookie quarterbacks thrown into the fire, he needs to cut down on his mistakes. But it appears the Lions have made the right decision.



2. Jason Smith, OT (St. Louis Rams)


Statistics: (GP: 9, GS: 5)


The Rams were desperate to fill the huge void left by Orlando Pace. Pace was once a superstar tackle in the league, but became a shell of himself when age and injuries caught up with him.


Smith is an athletic big man who by all accounts will serve as the Rams right tackle for years to come. He has had his share of struggles, but nothing he cannot overcome.


The Rams struggle on offense has more to do with the lack of playmaking ability at wide receiver, ineffective play at quarterback, and poor play at the opposite tackle spot than anything Smith has done.


The Rams will have to continue to add pieces on the offensive side of the ball, but they should be set at right tackle.



3. Tyson Jackson, DE (Kansas City Chiefs)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 17, S: 0)


Jackson has done nothing thus far to justify being taken with the third pick in the draft.


He has had a difficult time adjusting to the end in a 3-4 defense after playing in a 4-3 defense at LSU.


Jackson has made even less of an impact than backup end Wallace Gilberry, who has at least gotten a sniff of the quarterback with 3.5 sacks.


While it’s still too early to call him a bust, you would expect more out of a top-five pick in his rookie year.



4. Aaron Curry, OLB (Seattle Seahawks)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 56, S: 2, FF: 2)


At 6’2”, 256 pounds, with freakish athletic ability, Curry is as gifted a young linebacker as there is in the game.


On the field, he has shown glimpses that he can indeed turn into what some scouts were calling the “biggest impact defender in the draft.”


That being said, he still is very inconsistent and at times will completely blend into the woodwork.


Curry is having a solid but unspectacular rookie year, and should blossom once he learns the nuances of the professional game.



5. Mark Sanchez , QB (New York Jets)


Statistics: (GP:12, PYDS: 2,049, PCT: 53.2%, TD: 11, INT: 17, RT: 63.7)


Unlike Stafford, Sanchez inherited a pretty good football team that won nine games the year before he entered the league.


Unfortunately, his play has taken the Jets back a couple of steps in 2009. He had solid games against the Texans in Week One and Miami in Week Eight, but he has had disasters in too many others (one TD and 12 INTs against the Saints, Bills, and Patriots).


While Sanchez possesses the “moxie” and “good looks” that made him an instant idol in New York, the jury is still out on whether he will be a star on the field.


It is way too early to distinguish between boom and bust for this quarterback. Come back next year when he has another season under his belt.



6. Andre Smith, OT (Cincinnati Bengals)


Statistics: (GP: 2. GS: 0)


Things did not start out on a positive note for Smith.


He sat out in a contract dispute to start his professional career. When he finally did sign a contract, he came to camp overweight and proceeded to get injured.


Now that he is healthy, he cannot get on the field. His only playing time has been in a backup role in the last two games.


There were concerns about Smith’s weight and attitude before the draft. The Bengals would have been better served to let this guy slide.



7. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR (Oakland Raiders)


Statistics: (GP: 11, C: 9, YDRe: 124, TD: 1)


This was probably the biggest head-scratcher in the draft. Although Bey performed well in the NFL combines, he was not expected to be picked until the middle of the first round (at the earliest).


Instead, owner Al Davis continued his draft meddling by selecting Bey well ahead of where most draft “experts” had him.


While it is true that Bey has had to suffer through the incredibly awful play of former first-round bust JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, Bey has done nothing to quiet the critics.


To add insult to injury, fellow rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy stepped in while Bey was injured this week and caught a 75-yard touchdown pass.


Murphy has more catches for more yards, with more touchdowns than Bey (23, 411, 4).



8. Eugene Monroe, OT (Jacksonville Jaguars)


Statistics: (GP: 11, GS: 9)


Monroe was inserted into the starting lineup from Week One. Apart from dealing with some minor injuries, he has acquitted himself quite well.


In fact, as the season has worn on, Monroe has established himself as a pretty solid left tackle.


It is no accident that, as Monroe has begun to find himself, the Jaguars have gone on a streak of four wins in five games.



9. B.J. Raji, DT (Green Bay Packers)


Statistics: (GP: 9, T: 15, S: 1)


Raji was drafted in order for the Packers to fill the all-important nose tackle position as they made the switch to the 3-4 defense.


Although the switch has not suited some of the remaining members of the Packer defense, Raji has done an admirable job plugging the middle.


Statistics do not necessarily measure the performance of a nose tackle, whose job is to tie up two and three offensive lineman so the linebackers can make plays.


Raji has by-and-large filled that role as he splits time with veteran Ryan Pickett. He will get better as he packs on even more pounds and learns the intricacies of the position.



10. Michael Crabtree , WR (San Francisco 49ers)


Statistics: (GP: 7, C: 32, YDRe: 406, TD: 1)


Many backed off the biggest playmaker in the draft because of fears of his contract demands.


In the short run, that might have been the right call because Crabtree held out until after the sixth week of the season.


But in the long run, the 49ers will be a better team for it.


When you consider that Crabtree did not play until Week Seven, had no training camp, and a very tenuous quarterback situation, his numbers are spectacular.


Teams are already starting to rotate coverage Crabtree’s way with little success. He will be a Pro-Bowler before too long.



11. Aaron Maybin, DE (Buffalo Bills)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 11, S: 0)


This was somewhat of a reach from the start. It turns out that Maybin was not quite ready for prime time.


Currently, he is playing in a limited role with the Bills and has made very little impact as a rush end. At 250 pounds, he is very light for an end in the 4-3 defense.


He is either going to have to put on some weight or move to linebacker to be effective in the NFL. Perhaps he would have been better served to be drafted by a team that plays in a 3-4 scheme.



12. Knowshown Moreno, RB (Denver Broncos)


Statistics: (A: 182, YDRu: 774, Avg: 4.3, TD: 5)


Moreno leads all rookies in rushing and will more than likely top the 1,000-yard mark despite splitting carries with Correll Buckhalter.


He came into the league highly regarded as a game-breaker and he has done nothing to disappoint.


Moreno has fit in perfectly and is just one of many reasons why the Broncos are a surprise playoff contender.


He does have a tendency to put the ball on the ground, but once he shores up those issues, he can be a star in the NFL.



13. Brian Orakpo, DE (Washington Redskins)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 40, S: 7)


One of the most difficult duties for a scout is determining whether a college defensive end can make the switch to outside linebacker in the NFL.


Orapko is fast proving that the Redskins brass made the right call.


He is a disruptive force as a pass rusher and is improving as a run stopper.


Washington has plenty of issues, but this is not one of them. Orapko has a bright future in the NFL.



14. Malcolm Jenkins, CB (New Orleans Saints)


Statistics: (GP: 10, T: 34, INT: 1, FF: 2)


Many wondered whether Jenkins was an oversized cornerback or an undersized safety when he came out of Ohio State.


It turns out that Jenkins is just a football player. While he still can get beat by quicker wide receivers, Jenkins can hit and is a smart enough player to forget the last play.


Jenkins is just one piece to the improved play of the Saints defense, but he has proved in his short NFL career that he belongs.


Look for Jenkins to continue to improve and have a long NFL career barring injury.



15. Brian Cushing, OLB (Houston Texans)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 102, S: 1.5, INT: 3, FF: 2)


Considering where he was chosen, Brian Cushing may be the steal of the entire draft. No matter where he was chosen, he is clearly the NFL’s best rookie defensive player.


Cushing was recently named the NFL Defensive Player of the Month and has accumulated double-digit tackles in his last four games.


In addition to his 102 tackles, he leads all AFC linebackers in interceptions and passes defended (9). At 6’3” and 260 pounds, he has ideal size and remarkable agility for an outside linebacker.


Paired with former NFL defensive rookie of the year DeMeco Ryans (MLB) and Mario Williams (DE), the Texans are building something special on that side of the ball.



16. Larry English, OLB (San Diego Chargers)


Statistics: (GP:12, T: 21, S: 2, FF: 1)


English has seen very little action so far.


He has played decent when given the chance, but those opportunities have been few and far between behind Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips in San Diego.


Merriman’s recent injury history jolted the Chargers into taking English a little earlier than most had him pegged.


Merriman hasn’t shown the same burst he had pre-injury, so maybe the English pick will not be a waste down the line. But unless the Chargers let go of Merriman, San Diego could have used the pick more wisely.



17. Josh Freeman, QB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)


Statistics: (GP: 6, GS: 5, PYDS: 1,114, PCT: 54.4%, TD: 7, INT: 10, RT: 64.1)


Prior to this week’s game I would be saying what a solid pick Tampa Bay made to secure their franchise quarterback with the 17th pick in the draft.


Then Freeman laid an egg with a zero-touchdown, five-interception performance against the Panthers.


Despite that, Freeman has shown promise in his other four starts. Even in the Carolina debacle, he managed to throw for over 320 yards.


He reminds me of a young, healthy Daunte Culpepper because of his size at 6’6” and 250 pounds, pocket presence, and ability to throw the ball deep.


As the game slows down for him, Freeman should turn into a better-than-average NFL quarterback.



18. Robert Ayers, LB (Denver Broncos)


Statistics: (GP: 11, T: 15, S: 0, TD: 1)


Outside of a fumble recovery he returned for a touchdown against the Steelers in Week Nine, Ayers has not contributed much in his rookie year.


At only 274 pounds, Ayers is going to have to put on some weight in the offseason to be suitable to lineup at end in the 3-4.


Ayers was on the inactive roster in Week 11. He is a project who may show up in the Broncos starting lineup down the road.



19. Jeremy Maclin, WR (Philadelphia Eagles)


Statistics: (GP: 12, C: 46, YDRe: 623, TD: 4)


Maclin has been inconsistent in his first season with the Eagles, but has on occasion shown the explosiveness that led scouts to believe he could be a special playmaker in the NFL.


He’s led the Eagles in receptions in two games this year, including a spectacular 142-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week Five against Tampa Bay.


He and fellow speedster DeSean Jackson will be a dynamic duo at wide receiver for a long time in Philadelphia.



20. Brandon Pettigrew, TE (Detroit Lions)


Statistics: (GP: 11, C: 30, YDRe: 346, TD: 2)


The Lions connected on their second pick in the first round. Pettigrew provides young quarterback Matthew Stafford with a second big target alongside world-class wideout Calvin Johnson.


Pettigrew has become a favorite of Stafford’s at crunch time, turning 20 of his 30 catches into first downs. At 6’6”, 265 pounds, he is too strong for defensive backs to cover, but he is also too quick for linebackers in open field.


Pettigrew will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, but look for him to be considered among the elite tight ends in the league soon.



21. Alex Mack, C (Cleveland Browns)


Statistics: (GP: 12, GS: 12)


A lot of things have gone wrong for the Browns organization in 2009. This is not one of them.


In hindsight, when you consider that the Browns traded Mark Sanchez for Mack, starting rookie wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, starting safety Abram Elam, and backup defensive end Kenyon Coleman, the Browns made out like bandits.


A lot of people questioned whether Mack was even the best center in the draft. He arguably could be the best lineman overall.


Mack is intelligent, strong, agile, and carries a nasty mean streak. He and left tackle Joe Thomas give the Browns anchors to build on.


Now the Browns need to add some playmakers on offense to give them some help.



22. Percy Harvin, WR (Minnesota Vikings)


Statistics: (GP: 12, C: 48, YDRe: 648, TD: 6)


What do you get for the team who has everything on offense?


Answer: Percy Harvin.


Harvin is a matchup nightmare because of his ability to lineup all over the field, especially when teams already have to worry about quarterback Brett Favre’s arm and Adrian Peterson’s legs.


Whether lined up in the slot, in the backfield, or returning kicks, teams need to be aware of the speedy Harvin.


He has blossomed nicely under the tutelage of Favre. He will continue to provide defensive coordinators fits long after Brett has retired.



23. Michael Oher, OT (Baltimore Ravens)


Statistics: (GP: 12, GS: 12)


If you have not seen the movie The Blind Side do yourself a favor—it is an incredibly compelling story.


Oher is a long way from the streets of Memphis, but his life’s work is far from a finished product. 


He has been a starter from day one and the big right tackle looks like a keeper for the Ravens.



24. Peria Jerry, DT (Atlanta Falcons)


Statistics: (GP: 2, T: 1)


Peria was a backup for two games before his season was finished because of a knee injury.


Draft grade: incomplete.



25. Vontae Davis, CB (Miami Dolphins)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 38, INT: 3, TD: 1)


The Dolphins were desperate for help at the cornerback position, and Davis and fellow rookie corner Sean Smith have fit in nicely.


Most recently, Davis sealed a victory over the rival Patriots with an interception of a Tom Brady in the end zone.


Like all rookie cornerbacks Davis has made his share of mistakes, but he has the smarts and skill to be a solid NFL starter.



26. Clay Matthews, Jr., OLB (Green Bay Packers)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 30, S: 6, TD: 1, FF: 1)


Matthews plays at such a frenetic pace that at times he looks like the “Tasmanian Devil.”


Matthews has flashed big-time ability to make the big play. He just recorded his sixth sack of the season as this piece is being written.


The only thing holding him back from being a superstar is his tendency to get caught out of position. That will come with age.



27. Donald Brown, RB (Indianapolis Colts)


Statistics: (GP: 9, RA: 59, YDRu: 263, AVG; 4.3, TD: 2, C: 10, YDRe: 157)


Various injuries and starter Joseph Addai have kept Brown from proving he is a No. 1 back in the NFL.


In his brief time on the field, Brown has been productive. The Colts just have so many weapons that sometimes Brown gets lost in the shuffle.



28. Eric Wood, C (Buffalo Bills)


Statistics: (GP: 11, GS: 11)


Wood was showing promise in his rookie year, being thrown into the fire in Week One.


However, Wood’s season came to a dramatic conclusion in Week 11 against the Jaguars.


His left leg was so badly broken that CBS decided against showing the replay of the hit because it was too gruesome.


Well wishes on a speedy recovery.



29. Hakeem Nicks, WR (New York Giants)


Statistics: (GP: 10: C: 34, YDRe: 575, TD: 5)


For unknown reasons, the Giants coaching staff refuses to start this guy.


But whenever he does get on the field, Nicks just makes plays. His 16.7 yards per catch average is among the NFL leaders. He has game-breaking speed and excellent body control.


When the Giants coaching staff finally realizes that Nicks is their best playmaker, he will be lighting up defensive backs regularly.



30. Kenny Britt, WR (Tennessee Titans)


Statistics: (GP: 12, C: 36, YDRe: 567, TD: 3)


Britt has put together a very respectable year given the inconsistency the Titans have had at quarterback and the Titans’ rush-laden offense.


Britt has been used largely as a third receiver, but still has posted two 100-yard games.


Britt matches big catches with big times, converting 24 of his catches into first downs.


His big 6’3” frame make him a reliable target when his quarterback is in danger. His ability to run after the catch makes him dangerous.



31. Chris Wells, RB (Arizona Cardinals)


Statistics: (GP: 12, RA: 121, YDRu: 517, TD: 4, F: 3)


Wells’ production has been inconsistent. That cannot be explained away simply by citing the Cardinal’s pass-happy attack or his splitting carries with Tim Hightower.


While Wells has had a couple of decent games, he has yet to have a breakout game.


Whether he turns into the workhorse that was expected of him still remains to be seen.



32. Evander Hood, DT (Pittsburgh Steelers)


Statistics: (GP: 12, T: 6, S: 0)


“Ziggy” as he is known, has barely seen the field in his rookie campaign.


Even after the Steelers lost standout defensive end Aaron Smith to injury, Hood has not been able to get regular playing time.


This may have been a wasted pick.



GP: Games Played

GS: Games Started

PYDS: Passing Yards

PCT: Completion Percentage

C: Catches

YDRe: Yards Receiving

YDRu: Yards Rushing

TD: Touchdowns

F: Fumbles

INT: Interceptions

RT: Passer Rating

RYDS: Rushing Yards

RA: Rushing Attempts

YPC: Yards Per Carry

T: Tackles

S: Sacks

FF: Forced Fumbles

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Red-Hot San Diego Chargers Visit the Stumbling Cleveland Browns

Published: December 2, 2009

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The news just keeps getting worse for the 1-10 Browns as they prepare for the red-hot San Diego Chargers this week.


Starting safety Brodney Pool is likely out for the remainder of the season—if not his career—after suffering yet another concussion.


There is word that running back Jamal Lewis’ impending retirement may be coming sooner than he planned after a report that the Browns will place him on the Injured Reserve list.


Nose tackle Shawn Rogers—clearly the Browns’ best defensive player—is now down for the season with a broken leg.


Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley are also doubtful for the Chargers’ game.


The Browns already had the following names on the IR: starting linebackers Eric Barton and D’Qwell Jackson, tight end Steve Heiden, punter Dave Zastudil, backup running back James Davis, and offensive lineman Ryan Tucker.


To say the Browns were out-manned before the injury bug hit would be grossly understated. To say the Browns are over-matched after the injuries would be akin to calling the Pope “kind of” religious.


San Diego is riding a six-game winning streak after completely dismantling the Broncos and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks.


After a 2-3 start, the Chargers are finally looking like the Super Bowl contenders many experts thought they would be before the season began.


Quarterback Philip Rivers leads a diverse group of playmakers on offense. Rivers has a 101.6 quarterback rating helped by his 19 touchdown passes against just six interceptions.


It’s a “pick your poison” between running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, and tight end Antonio Gates.


Sproles and Tomlinson can beat you on the ground or through the air, and Floyd (6’5”/225 lbs.), Jackson (6’5”/230 lbs.), and Gates (6’4”/260 lbs.) have such a tremendous size advantage over opposing defensive backs that it is nearly impossible to match-up against them.


On the offensive line, left tackle Marcus McNiell and left guard Kris Dielman are Pro Bowlers, and center Justin Hardwick has been a Pro Bowl alternate.


If the Chargers do have an Achilles heal on offense, it is the right side of their offensive line. Despite having two of the game’s biggest gamebreakers at running back, both backs’ yards per carry averages are down as a result.


Rookie third-rounder Louis Vasquez has had a difficult adjustment to the pro running game after coming out of pass-happy Texas Tech.


Starting right tackle Jeromey Clarey is now out for the season. He will be replaced by either back-up guard Brandyn Dombrowski or Jon Runyan, who was just talked out of retirement last week.


The defense is active and is especially strong against the run. Improvement on this side of the ball is the main reason for the team’s turn-around after a 34-23 loss to the Broncos on October 19.


Louis Castillo leads a rather non-descript group of defensive lineman. The Chargers front three do not make plays, but simply keep offensive lineman from hammering away at a solid group of linebackers.


Shaun Phillips has supplanted All Pro Shawne Merriman as the most disruptive force on the San Diego Defense. The sixth-year pro is becoming impossible to handle with a single blocker and must be accounted for at all times.


Merriman has not shown the same explosiveness that he had prior to his Achilles tear in 2009. He has recorded sacks in only two games this year and might miss the Browns’ game with a foot injury.


First round pick Larry English has not made much of an impact thus far, but may get a chance to play if Merriman does not suit up.


Stephen Cooper already has 80 tackles at middle linebacker. And although the opposite, starting middle linebacker Kevin Burnett might miss the game because of a concussion, Brandon Siler and Tim Dobbins are more than capable veteran backups who have received plenty of playing-time.


Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer form arguably the best book-end cover corners in the league. Their ability to lock-down outside receivers forces teams to look to their tight ends and running backs much more than they would like.


The safety position is in a state of flux for the Chargers now that Eric Weddle will not play due to injury.


Rookie safety C.J. Spillman will play his first NFL game at safety in place of Weddle. Spillman will be thrown into the fire after spending all of the season on the inactive roster or special teams.


Kevin Gregory will likely start at the other safety. Rookie backup Kevin Ellison may also see some action.


Although the Chargers have some injury concerns of their own, they just have too many weapons on the offensive side of the ball for the Browns to keep up.


Because the Chargers cornerbacks are the strength of the team, the Browns will be forced to get some production out of the tight end position—something that they have not been able to do all year.


Look for the Chargers to jump out ahead early and never look back.


Final Prediction: San Diego Chargers 34 – Cleveland Browns 6

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